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Posted on 25/09/2019 by Phillip Island Nature Parks

Nature Parks and SETFIA putting Bins on Boats

Phillip Island Nature Parks, in partnership with the commercial fishing sector championed by the South East Trawl Fishing Industry Association (SETFIA), has received $44,000 from the Victorian Government, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Biodiversity Response Planning (BRP), to put “Bins on Boats”. This project aims to reduce the amount of marine debris accidentally released from fishing vessels in South-East Australia, often resulting in the entanglement of marine mammals.

100 specially built bins have been produced and offered to the commercial fleet of Victoria to capture on-board rubbish and net fragments. Participation in the project is voluntary and much will be learned about how we can improve waste management for commercial fisheries.

Marine debris such as plastic doesn’t break down; it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. After entering the ocean, plastic pollution can get tangled in habitats on the ocean floor, become a ghost net, and indiscriminately kill marine life physically captured in it. It can be ingested by marine life, blocking digestion or causing starvation. Urban sources of plastic are the main items polluting our marine environment but reducing inputs from as many sources as possible contributes overall.

In Victoria, Australian fur seals regularly become entangled in marine plastic including commercial fishing net fragments. The entanglement is typically around the neck and reduces the ability of the seal to forage, often causing starvation. More frequently pups and juveniles become entangled because they are naïve and playful. As they grow the restrictive material cuts into their flesh and causes serious wounds that result in death.

Unfortunately marine plastic is ubiquitous and can remain in the environment for many years, moving around in the currents. Reducing the amount of litter entering the ocean, effectively turning off the tap, will help prevent the death of marine wildlife, including the fur seals and improve the health of the marine ecosystem.

Seal Rocks lies 1.8 km offshore from The Nobbies on Phillip Island, and is home to the largest breeding population of Australian fur seals of over 20,000. On any given day, there can be as many as 11 individuals entangled in marine plastic pollution. Netting from commercial fishing is one of the most common types of entanglements, along with recreational fishing line, plastic bags and balloon ribbons. From December 1997 to August 2019 there have been 478 entangled seals observed at Seal Rocks on research trips, 52% of which have been rescued and the entanglement removed.

“This is a huge animal welfare issue. The entangled seals are often in a lot of pain and it is very difficult to catch them in the colony because they run into the water when they see a person,” said Dr Rebecca McIntosh, Research Scientist with Phillip Island Nature Parks.

“They don’t realise we are trying to help them and it is very stressful. We can’t catch every entangled seal and many of them we never see again. What we are doing helps each seal out there, but it is a band-aid for the problem of marine plastic pollution. The seals are just one species we see being affected, if they are getting entangled so are other species. We need to turn off the tap and reduce the amount of plastic entering the ocean.”

Simon Boag, CEO of SETFIA champions the project for the commercial fishing industry stating “We are working with our fishermen and Phillip Island Nature Parks because sustainable fishing practices such as correct waste disposal protect our future.”

There has been a great response to the project from the industry with 70 bins already active in the Victorian fleet.

“Specially designed bins are being rolled out for commercial fishing boats across Victoria to capture net fragments and rubbish and prevent them entering the marine environment. As part of the project we will be investigating the full life cycle of the nets and explore how they are disposed of and whether there are recycling opportunities for the captured material.”


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